“Long John” Reilly: Cincinnati Red Stocking and Artist
Posted On: 04/05/2017 - 12:11pm, Posted By: Sarah Staples, Helen Steiner Rice Archivist
John Good Reilly was born in Cincinnati, OH on October 5, 1858 to Francis and Ellen (Good) Reilly. Probably better known as a baseball player for the Cincinnati Red Stockings, Reilly was also a noted artist for the Strobridge Lithographing Company. In the contract pictured below, Reilly was apprenticed in 1873 when he was fourteen years old. The drawings below were created by Reilly during his apprenticeship at Strobridge Lithographing Company.
John Reilly Apprenticeship Contract, 1873. Cincinnati Museum Center. Mss 518. Strobridge Lithographing Company Records: box 9, folder 8.
John Reilly Drawings, [1873-1877]. Cincinnati Museum Center. Mss 590. John G. Reilly Papers: box 1.
His baseball career started when he was 14 as well. The first amateur team he played for was in Latonia, Kentucky. An interesting story surrounding the beginning of his career was that he started as a catcher, but quickly shifted to first base in order to protect his artist hands from the dangers of the early catcher’s position. Reilly would play for a variety of amateur teams around Cincinnati before he moved to his first professional job with the Red Stockings in 1880. He was unusually tall for the time, standing at 6’3”, and he quickly gained the nickname “Long John”. Known mostly for his solid defensive game, his height and subsequent long arms made him one of the easiest batters to strike out in the beginning of his career.
In 1880 while on the road, Reilly took advantage of a few days off to visit the New York offices of Strobridge Lithographing Company. On his return journey his streamboat, the Narragansett, collided with the Stonington steamboat in the Long Island Sound. 30 to 70 people died. Although he nearly drowned, Reilly managed to drift to a rescue ship. His visit to the Strobridge New York offices was the first indicator that Reilly would switch teams and play for the Metropolitans in the 1881 season. His art was so important to him that he had to ensure he could continue that work even when switching teams.
A bidding war between the New York Metropolitans and the Cincinnati Red Stockings brought Reilly back to Cincinnati in 1882. However he was unable to play for Cincinnati until 1883 due to a contract dispute. 1883 turned out to be his best year, with Reilly batting a .311 average and leading in every major statistical category. He continued to be a reliable player for the Red Stockings through the rest of his career. Pictured below is Reilly’s 1885 contract.
John Reilly Base Ball Contract, 1885. Cincinnati Museum Center. Mss C574bas. Cincinnati Base Ball Club Records: box 1, folder 16.
After the 1891 season, he chose to retire from baseball in order to focus on his art career. He worked for Strobridge Lithographing Company almost his entire life leaving only when his health deteriorated in his last few years. John never married. He died in Cincinnati on May 31, 1937.